On the (International) beat with a Frostburg photographer
Catching up and Keeping Pace with Mike Snyder
Michael O. Snyder’s prolific work as a photographer and videographer has garnered numerous awards and has been shown in screenings around the world. He has directed films in the Arctic, the Amazon, the Himalayas, and East Africa. His work has been featured by National Geographic, the BBC, The Washington Post, and NPR, among others.
A 1999 graduate of Frostburg’s Beall High School, Snyder spent six months hiking the 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail following his undergraduate studies.
“I realized it is not enough to enjoy the outdoors,” he recalls. “We need to work to protect it and ensure it is there for future generations.”
“One of the biggest challenges on the Appalachian Trail is finding ways to be comfortable with yourself while in long periods of silence,” he says. “Sometimes these periods can last for days. So at the time I was also reading a lot. I found myself reading a few books that explored how different spiritual traditions -- specifically Christian and Buddhist -- regard the natural world. That interest in the east-west philosophical dialectic lead me to move to Japan in 2005.”
From Japan, Mike grabbed a freighter to China and spent three months traveling by rail through Siberia and Russia, eventually ending up in Portugal, observing the lands he crossed and engaging with a wide variety of people. Upon return to the states, Mike eventually landed in Hawaii where he taught kids to surf and hike. Having circumnavigated the globe, he returned to Western Maryland to “touch base” and ended up founding a film company here – Interdependent Pictures -- in 2011.
First featured in Allegany Magazine in November 2016, Snyder was awarded a grant from the Community Trust Foundation through his work with the Appalachian Independent and the Mountain City Traditional Arts.
“At that juncture in my life, CTF had just awarded a grant to the Appalachian Independent and Mountain City Traditional Arts to create a series of short videos about Appalachian traditions,” Snyder recalls. He applied to do the work and got the contract.
“It was an unintentional turn of events in my life,” he reflects, “but I have found photography and film to be incredibly powerful tools to drive forward the values that guided me in my environmental work. I can say without hesitation that the small CTF grant changed the course of my life.”
To date, Mike has shot documentaries about India, Ecuador, and Uganda. He won Best Short Documentary in Our City Festival (Washington, DC), was nominated for Best Short Documentary (Cayman Islands Film Festival), and was winner of Best Environmental Documentary in Queen City Film Festival (Cumberland, MD). His work has been shown on Maryland Public Television, and he was recently a featured artist in The Wild Magazine in New York City. His photographic work has been seen on the cover of Political Science and Politics and the cover of Going Organic Guide, as well as in The Washington Post.
“Photography is just the tool. So you have to start with knowing your tool well. But far more importantly, you have to discover for yourself what are truly passionate about. You have to ask yourself ‘what stories that I want to tell’? ‘What stories need to be heard?’ ‘What lies at the unique intersection of what matters most to me, and what will make this a better world for others?’” Mike says.
Married and with a nearly six-year old son, Mike says he will always feel most at home in Appalachia, working in the locale he finds most congenial, developing new projects that expand the message that has become his mantra—that we must change our ways if humanity is to continue as a viable species.
“I am inspired by people, traditions and cultures that understand that our personal well-being is fundamentally entangled with the well-being of all other things,” Mike says. “Coming to understand our entanglement, our non-separation, is actually learning how to love. We typically talk about love as something that happens between you and somebody that you know... but how can we learn how to love beyond what we can see? Beyond faces that look like our own? Wherever there is a voice that speaks out in love... I am inspired.”
Currently working on a series of documentaries, one of his films looks at Appalachian culture as a dynamic force, exploring how its people hold on to their identity while also moving with the times. Scheduled to premiere his latest work during Frostburg’s Appalachian Festival in September, Snyder will also serve as a featured speaker at the Community Trust Foundation’s annual Humanitarian Award Dinner, scheduled this year for September 10.
“What has resonated the most for me throughout my partnership with CTF is our shared belief in the power and potential of our community,” Snyder explains. “So much of the narrative around Appalachia has been extractive and disempowering. What inspires me is all of the people who are working to build the community and the future that they want to see. We have to do everything we can to unleash that potential.”
As more millennials mature into their middle-aged years, they are likely to channel their intense passions for causes they care about into creative solutions to improve the world around them, just as Snyder did.
“I am optimistic about the future when I meet young people who want to contribute to the world around them and are willing to work for the greater good,” observes Marion Leonard, chair of the Community Trust Foundation board.
In the last decade, the foundation has granted more than $5.5 million to support our rich historical and cultural heritage, award over 45 scholarships, and empower our young people for a better future. Professionally managed, CTF’s charitable funds are kept local and are awarded annually through grants and scholarships to nonprofit organizations and deserving students.